ROME, March 11, 2014 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The Italian Catholic and pro-life world is mourning the loss of one of its most outspoken and articulate defenders today. News spread on Sunday night of the death of pro-life author, lecturer and polemicist Mario Palmaro, who had recently made international headlines when he received an encouraging phone call from Pope Francis following his public criticism of the pontiff.
Perhaps most famously, Palmaro was the author of a widely disseminated article critical of Pope Francis titled, “Christ is not an option among many, and certainly not for his deputy on earth – Why we do not like this Pope.” Upon publication of the piece, which criticized Francis for what Palmaro believed were grave ambiguities in the pope’s presentation of Catholic moral and dogmatic teaching, he was sacked from his regular program at Radio Maria.
The pope, however, reached out to Palmaro, who was in the late stages of cancer, and thanked him for the criticisms. “I was astonished, amazed, above all moved,” Palmaro said at receiving the unexpected phone call. “For me, as a Catholic, that which I was experiencing was one of the most beautiful experiences in my life.”
In an interview after the incident, Palmaro said that he had tried to bring up the substance of the criticisms but “the Pope almost did not let me finish the sentence.” The pontiff said “that he had understood that those criticisms had been made with love, and how important it had been for him to receive them.” Palmaro, however, did not back away from the critique, having “assured the Pope of my unconditional loyalty as a son of the Church.”
“But I also recalled my duty, and expressed to the Pope … my very accurate criticism of his actions.”
Asked if the phone call would make him stop critiquing the current pontificate, Palmaro responded no. “We will continue down the path we have always gone by, we follow our conscience, always connected to the Pope and the Church in faithfulness, but we will continue on our way, just because of this loyalty and love.”
Although this incident, almost at the close of his life, is the reason his name is known in the English-speaking world, Palmaro has long been a revered figure among many European pro-life advocates for his outspoken defense of the principle of the inviolable sanctity of human life and his vigorous, uncompromising approach to pro-life philosophy.
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The author and co-author of numerous polemical books developing that philosophy in terms that the layman could grasp and use in apologetics, Palmaro also concentrated much of his writing on helping Catholics and other Christians respond to the growth of what Benedict XVI called “aggressive secularism.” Titles included Against the strain of modern secularism: a survival manual for Catholics, and Planet of the Apes: Manual of survival in a world that has rejected God.
In addition to his pro-life writing, Palmaro authored books of literary criticism, examining the writing of J.R.R. Tolkien and the Sherlock Holmes canon for Italian audiences in Tolkienology: the secret of your personality with the characters of Lord of the Rings and Supernatural, Watson: Sherlock Holmes and the case of God.
He was as much praised for his readable and lively style as for the content of his arguments. One editor wrote in an obituary that Palmaro’s long collaboration with journalist Alessandro Gnocchi gave the world a “congenial duo of sharp thinking and linguistic dexterity.”
Palmaro’s last book, co-authored with Gnocchi and Giuliano Ferrara, editor of the daily newspaper Il Foglio, is titled This Pope Likes Too Much: the passionate and critical reading of a pontificate, and will be released in Rome March 25.
In Italian academia, Palmaro was a well-known figure on the pro-life side of the prominent bioethics debates and worked as a lecturer at the faculty of bioethics at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum in Rome, and taught theoretical philosophy, ethics, bioethics and philosophy of law at the European University of Rome.
Having early on dedicated his working life to the defense of human life, Palmaro graduated from the Faculty of Law at the University of Milan with a thesis on abortion. Following the completion of his law degree, he studied bioethics at the same university. He later served as president of the National Committee for Truth and Life, a member of the Association of Lawyers for Life and the Union of Italian Catholic Jurists.
Palmaro, however, also did not hesitate to criticize the pro-life movement itself, wherever he felt some within it were failing to embrace the fullness of the pro-life position. He was a sharp critic of the so-called “incremental” or “gradualist” approach taken by some Italian pro-lifers who refused to demand the outright overturning of Italy’s abortion legislation, Law 194.
LifeSiteNews.com spoke with Monsignor Ignacio Barreiro, head of the Rome office of Human Life International, who said Palmaro was “a very serious writer, who defended with intelligence and in an integral way the cause of life in Italy.” He was “widely respected and certainly his absence is going to be felt.”
“It should be underlined,” Msgr. Barreiro said, “that he had a clear view that Italy’s abortion law had to be derogated.” This position is in opposition to that of the mainstream Italian pro-life group, Movimento Italia per la Vita, who have favoured an approach of “improving” the existing law.
Palmaro, Barreiro said, was very clear that the Italian abortion law should be repealed outright, adding that he considered the Movimento Italia per la Vita to be “soft.”
The basis of his criticism of the mainstream pro-life world, both at home and abroad, was his critique of the Christian Democrat ideology that, Barreiro said, “leads to an inclination to reach compromises and the accepting of the ‘lesser evil.’”
“He considered this spirit of compromise a mortal sickness that pervades the pro-life movement.”
Mario Palmaro died of cancer on Sunday, March 9 at the age of 45.
Towards the end of his life, he gave encouragement to Catholics dismayed at some of the developments in the Church: “In some little, out of the way church there will always be a priest who celebrates the Mass in a holy way; in a little apartment a solitary old woman with unshakeable faith will say the Rosary; in a hidden corner of a House of Divine Providence a Sister will look after a baby considered by all as having no worth.”
“Even when all seems lost, the Church, the City of God, continues to radiate its light on the City of Man,” he said.